5 Immortal Statements From the Oldest People On Earth
A fresh reminder to keep things simple.
Okinawa, Japan. Home to the world’s oldest people, uncovering their ‘secret’ is a centerpiece of western fascination. You may be familiar with the Okinawan diet, or perhaps their belief in the community — known as ‘moai.’ Above all, though, Okinawans seem to do one thing better than anyone.
They take care of themselves.
Care exudes through everything they do — from their work and hobbies to the communities and the food they eat.
It’s something that westerners like myself think we do adequately but don’t really, not in comparison to the Okinawans. They personify self-care.
To understand how, I’m not going to dive into pages of research. Instead, I’m going to explain through their words, as found in Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles’ Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and fulfilling life.
These immortal statements embody what it takes to live a long, fulfilled, and happy life.
Rethinking the meaning of work
Between 55 to 80% of people feel they endure work instead of enjoying it. If that doesn’t change, the effects will be slow at first, but then all at once. As one elderly Okinawan said:
“Working. If you don’t work, your body breaks down.”
Now I don’t know about you, but the word ‘work’ feels negative these days. It doesn’t sound enjoyable — a mere means to an end.
But a work-based life doesn’t need to be a laborious one. Instead, it’s purpose-driven, encourages good habits, and keeps you active.
In the book, the villagers explain further:
- “I feel joy every morning waking up at six and opening the curtains to look out at my garden, where I grow my own vegetables. I love the sight of them, it relaxes me. After an hour in the garden, I go back inside and make breakfast.”
- “The key to staying sharp in old age is in your fingers. From your fingers to your brain, and back again. If you keep your fingers busy, you’ll live to see one hundred.”
In Okinawa, work doesn’t mean a ten-hour shift in a job you hate. Work is about keeping your mind and body busy.
A social butterfly’s life is a long one
Five beers deep, 35 stories told, 3 hours gone. Worries? None.
It’s only until the moment becomes a memory do we realize that our friends and family are unlicensed, unintended therapists. The best kind.
Okinawans thrive on this, as one of them mentioned to authors Garcia and Miralles:
“Talking each day with the people you love, that’s the secret to a long life.”
Consistent social interaction helps keep your mind fresh. But, just because we age, doesn’t mean we need to grow dull, as a message greeting visitors to Okinawa mentions:
“At 80 I am still a child. When I come to see you at 90, send me away to wait until I’m 100. The older, the stronger; let us not depend too much on our children as we age. If you seek long life and health, you are welcome in our village, where you will be blessed by nature, and together we will discover the secret to longevity.”
“Together, we will discover the secret to longevity.” Together. Okinawans don’t see relying on others as a sign of weakness, nor is doing everything by themselves a sign of strength.
Reminding yourself help is a phone call away can make the challenging moments more manageable.
We live our lives surrounded by deadlines
You arrive at work at 9 am and finish yesterday’s task by 10. You take a shortcut to the gym because you only have an hour before your lunch break ends. Deadline after deadline. Stress after stress.
We ping-pong between point A and point B.
I get it. We all have shit to do. But we all act as if we’re in a hurry. Take one look at the scornful faces of London’s underground passengers, and you’ll see deadlines flash in their brain, timing every minute of their journey. I’m no different.
“You live much longer if you’re not in a hurry.”
Garcia and Miralles explain that while the locals do a lot during the day, they went about their business on their time, no one else's. One villager breaks it down nicely:
“Doing many different things every day. Always staying busy, but doing one thing at a time, without getting overwhelmed.”
As my mum reminded me after I failed my driving test the first time around: it’ll be okay. Overloading your mind with deadlines and tasks will only stress you out more.
Who you see in the mirror is subjective
Most of us look at old age as debilitating. I, for one, would love to stay young forever.
But, once again, the Okinawans challenge this perspective. Instead of allowing themselves to waste away, they keep pushing on:
“I’m ninety-eight, but consider myself young. I still have so much to do.”
Old age isn’t a stopping point. Nor is any age, for that matter.
Moving beyond my teenage years taught me the importance of ditching any embarrassment. Guilty pleasures are just pleasures. I love comic book films because they ignite the youth within me. It’s all about how you perceive yourself.
But, again, although the western world continually looks for the ‘secret’ to a long and happy life, Okinawans don’t:
“There’s no secret to it. The trick is just to live.”
Live a little. Be a kid.
Life is what you make it
When I played rugby in school, my team’s coach kept reminding us to do the simple things correctly. Do them right, he said, and you’ll win the game. But, as is the case with most things, the simple things are often the hardest to complete.
Although western media touted Okinawan culture as almost revolutionary, the villagers themselves don’t see it that way. To them, that’s just life. It’s doesn’t seem life-changing, nor will these statements surprise you. They merely encourage a fresh, fulfilled way of living.
But, hey, head these words, and maybe someone will interview you on your 115th birthday.